Clattering dishes, second helpings – or thirds – scooped on to plates, laughter, the smell of a delicious roast, and the satisfied sigh of people rubbing full bellies, protesting they just couldn’t eat another bite. It’s home. But not just any home. This is a shared dinner at the Herring Cove Apartments and the meal was lovingly prepared by a Joan’s Table volunteer.
Joan’s Table is an incredible community effort that has brought together some 200 volunteers to serve more than 650 meals for the 12 Herring Cove tenants. The program was founded in September 2017 by Catherine Mayo Woodman and Maura Woodman in honour of mother and grandmother – Joan Mayo. It fills an important role in ensuring food security for the people who live in the units.
The Herring Cove Apartments had opened two years previously as an affordable, supportive living environment dedicated to individuals who have experienced chronic homelessness and who have a long history of alcohol dependency, A combination of government and non-profit funding covers program, staff, and building costs. But, there is no budget for food. The Mayo – Woodman family saw an opportunity to make a difference.
“This project has been so meaningful to us and to the community,” says Maura. “And really, it’s become more meaningful as we progress. It’s remarkable to make an impact.”
The mother – daughter pair say they are humbled to see the amount of time, talent, and contributions so many people have put in to making the program a success. “To observe the commitment and effort; the hours that it takes to plan, shop, prepare, and deliver the meals is really significant. And so many volunteers come back and do it again and again,” says Catherine.
Covid forced the program to pause twice, but the volunteers have come back as strong as ever each time. “It’s wonderful because people can volunteer in their own home at their own time. You can cook in the middle of the night if that’s what you’d like to do,” says Maura. “And it doesn’t have to be just a single person doing the work. We have book clubs, whole families, friends, neighbours, faith groups, and a group of IWK nurses who come together, have some fun, and make something special.”
They calculate the average cost for groceries per meal is about $120. Shopping, meal preparation, and delivery is around six hours of work. Added up, those nearly 200 volunteers have devoted more than 4000 hours and $78,000. “I feel like our efforts pale by comparison,” says Maura. The duo now focuses on spreading the Joan’s Table story, although at least once a month Catherine does cook and provide a meal – usually her mother Joan’s signature lasagna.
Their favourite part is hearing the feedback about the meals from the staff and tenants. “We hear such colourful stories. People saying things like ‘I’m going to get fat’ or that ‘this was the most magnificent brunch I’ve ever seen’ or just that people came back for third servings because all the food was so good,” says Catherine.
“Joan’s Table completely changed the service delivery that we were able to provide our tenants. Being able to offer home-cooked, hearty meals multiple nights a week thanks to their efforts makes an incredible difference,” says Herring Cove House Manager Brittney Sinclair. “It’s an amazing sense of community through the gift of food.”
Maura and Catherine say they are so grateful to everyone involved in the project – every volunteer, donor, and all the frontline Shelter Nova Scotia staff members who receive and serve the deliveries. “I think my grandmother would feel proud of how everyone has come together and cares for one another,” says Maura. “It’s nourishment for the body and soul.”
Would you like to help? Joan’s Table has an online booking system to sign up to provide a meal.
Check out https://www.joanstable.com/give-a-meal to pick a date.